State audit finds ‘material weaknesses’ and ‘systemic issues’ in Bartholomew County financial procedures and administration of federal funds

COLUMBUS, Ind. — A state audit has found “material weaknesses” and “systemic issues” in the Bartholomew County government’s financial procedures and controls for administering federal funds, including instances in which officials failed to accurately report expenditures, document procurements and, in one case, verify if a vendor was banned from receiving federal dollars before awarding a contract.

The audit, filed Aug. 18 by the Indiana State Board of Accounts, found that the county’s procurement policy “did not comply with applicable state laws and regulations” and that county officials had failed to design or implement effective internal controls to ensure compliance with rules that aim to protect federal taxpayer money from fraud, waste and abuse from contractors.

More specifically, the audit detailed a range of errors in the information that county officials provided the state auditors including some that resulted in understating expenditures of a COVID-19 relief fund by $1.89 million, child support enforcement program by $519,263, highway planning and construction program expenditures by $390,879, among other errors.

The audit also points to a $155,000 contract that county officials awarded to a vendor “without full and open competition.”

“There was no detailing the history of the procurement or the county’s justification for limiting competition,” the audit states. “Additionally, the county did not verify that the vendor was neither suspended nor debarred, or otherwise excluded or disqualified from participating in federal programs prior to entering into the contract.”

In addition, the audit mentions four purchases of less than $1,000 that county officials agreed to verbally without documenting “the history of the procurement, including the rationale for the method of procurement, selection of vendor and the basis for price.”

The Indiana State Board of Accounts officials said the audit did not find any evidence of missing or misappropriated funds or any questionable transactions. The audit has now been filed with the Federal Audit Clearinghouse, officials said.

Bartholomew County Auditor Pia O’Connor did not respond to questions about the audit, the specific transactions mentioned in the report and what steps the county has taken to correct the issues. O’Connor said her office was preparing to respond later this week.

Bartholomew County Treasurer Barb Hackman was traveling out of the country and unable to comment by press deadline.

For more on this story, see Sunday’s Republic.